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The weekends are filled with much work for the caretaker and many naps for the cats. Generally, the caretaker’s work involves cleaning up after the cats and making sure her own clothes are tidy so that she can go to work to earn money for cat food. (Everyone needs a purpose in life.) But the cats need tidy apparel as well, and that is what spa day is all about. When the caretaker pulls out the basket filled with brushes, dander wipes, sprays, toenail clippers, and cotton swabs, the cats know it will soon be time to hop onto the ottoman and enjoy the luxury of being groomed. Until a couple of years ago, Buddy resisted all efforts to make him look presentable, but he has come to enjoy the sheer bliss of having his coat brushed, especially the fur in his ruff.

Sheer bliss is how this weekend’s spa treatments started. Even before the brushes were brought out, Buddy had hopped onto the ottoman to take the first turn. He closed his eyes, threw back his head, and surrendered to the gentle motion of the brush tracing up and down his neck. Normally, the caretaker is required to steer clear of any fur below Buddy’s shoulders, but this year for the first time, he allowed her to comb through the fur that sheds in such great quantity that it gets matted near his tail. After removing enough fur from Buddy to craft another cat, the caretaker rubbed his head one last time and sent him on his way. He curled up on the back of the couch and sank into a lovely nap that was several levels deeper than usual because he was so very relaxed.

Then it was Bear’s turn. Because of her thick undercoat, she requires extensive grooming, as well as attention to her skin. While Buddy has not yet learned to love being sprayed with non-rinse shampoo, Bear relishes the soothing liquid that manages her dander so very well.

Had the caretaker chosen the bottle of non-rinse shampoo, this weekend’s spa day would not have ended in such an uproar. But she was in a hurry and accidentally picked up the bottle with instructions that begin, “Wet pet thoroughly.”

So right there on the ottoman, the recently brushed Bear was being slathered with a thick, gooey, slightly bubbly liquid that simply would not succumb to the dander wipes. The more the caretaker tried to remedy the situation, the worse it became. There was now only one option: B – A – T – H. (Gentle readers, please do not say the word aloud, on the off chance that Bear might hear you.)

The caretaker scooped up the wretched cat, who was by now wriggling and complaining, and deposited her into the bathtub. With one hand the caretaker turned on the water and adjusted the temperature, and with the other she held onto the soapy feline, who was by this point channeling the spirit of a bucking bronco.

While soapy water might do wonders for the health of a cat’s coat, it has the unfortunate effect of melting the cat’s dignity and increasing her annoyance. Now drenched, the erstwhile queen looked more like an ill-tempered otter. Removing her to a towel did not improve her attitude in the least, and once the caretaker let her go, she slinked off to her bed in the hallway to continue the grooming task, only this time, to do it correctly.

Needless to say, the caretaker has now spent some time rearranging the contents of the basket, to ensure that such horrors will not be repeated. In other news, there is no estimate as to when Bear will forgive the atrocities of the spoiled spa day. The caretaker can only hope there are no repercussions. Bear has a long memory, and if carrying a grudge were an Olympic event, she would have a wall full of gold medals by now. As our gentle readers can see from the photo below, she would not even acknowledge the existence of either the camera or the caretaker.

Post-bath

You are dead to me, hooman

Let this be a lesson to us all: read the label if you’re able, or you can bet you’ll have regret.

 

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There are times when the caretaker has a positively brilliant idea, such as setting up a monthly subscription for cat food delivery. And then there are other times. The Disco Tent falls into the category of “other times.” It seemed like such a good idea at the outset. The caretaker had been brainstorming ideas to keep the floor in the cats’ room from looking like the bottom of a snow globe (that is if the snow globe were filled with litter instead of dainty pieces of faux snow). She had seem some expensive pieces of furniture called “hidden litter boxes” with holes into which cats are supposed to saunter, take care of their unsightly business, and then saunter out again, fresh as a daisy. But given the size, age, and temperament of both Buddy and Bear, the caretaker figured that such a plan would result in having to ring up the fire department to use the jaws of life to rescue one or more furry victims from the throes of claustrophobia.

No, there was no point in paying hundreds of dollars for a glorified cat trap, but a suitable alternative seemed to present itself in the form of a small plastic tent intended for children ages 1-6. The caretaker thought she could shove each litter box into a separate tent, so that as litter was kicked about, the sides of the tent would hold it in. To be safe, however, she decide to order only one tent to make sure the plan would work.

Limiting the order was the only good decision the caretaker made in this fiasco. When the tent arrived and was unfolded, it presented three major problems:

  1. The opening in the tent is not large enough for the litter box to gain easy entrance into and egress from the tent.
  2. Even if the litter box could be squeezed into and out of the tent door, the sides of the tent are made of a lovely, breathable mesh material that would provide smaller pieces of litter easy entrance into and egress from the tent.
  3. Although designed for children ages 1-6, the tent is roughly the size of Connecticut. Two of them would fit into the cats’ bedroom only if all other furniture were removed.

In other words, the tent put the caretaker back to square one with regard to litter spillage, while subtracting more than a square yard from her already limited floor space. Even in the kindest terms, this solution would be labeled a colossal failure.

But the caretaker, having spent twelve dollars and ninety-nine cents for this disaster and having no desire to ship it back, was determined to find a way for it to brighten up the household. So she wedged it into the spare bedroom, lined it with a blanket, and tossed in all of the cat toys she had found when she swept under the sofa, et voila, a playhouse. Two of the toys she retrieved are spheres made of pointed strips of multicolored mylar that catch the light and sparkle like a disco ball.

Thus the naissance of Disco Tent.

Although Disco Tent was righteously snubbed by both cats during the first eight hours of its existence at Stratford Palace, it finally became the subject of Buddy’s undauntable curiosity. He would run through its door, sniff the tent interior from east to west and north to south, and then fly out the door as though he had been ejected.  His curiosity, you see, was tempered with a keen distrust that the tent might suddenly transform into a cat carrier and whisk him away to the vet’s office. (Please note that the caretaker has not entirely discarded this option, given the difficulty of getting Buddy to the vet.)

Bear, however, remained oblivious to the tent’s charms for two more days. But Tuesday morning, the caretaker passed by the guest room door and caught a glimpse of Buddy standing beside the tent looking quite forlorn—utterly discontent, one might say. His head hung down, and his face wore an expression that made the caretaker want to weep and giggle at the same time.

“Whatever is the matter, my darling boy?” the caretaker crooned. Buddy lifted only his eyes, simultaneously raising the level of tragedy that emanated from his countenance.

As the caretaker glanced around to find the source of his chagrin, she looked inside the tent and saw the distinctly ringed tail of a saucy tabby. The previously indifferent Bear had taken up residence in the Disco Tent, and her relaxed demeanor indicated that she would not vacate it any time soon.

Buddy’s once sacred space had been violated. He was afraid to enter the tent while Bear occupied it, so he had resigned himself to wait in mournful silence for her to leave.

The caretaker smiled and reassured Buddy that he would again be able to frolic in the Disco Tent after Bear finished her nap and moved on to partake of a post-nap snack.

The caretaker tactfully omitted that this was clearly a first-world problem and therefore did not merit as much sympathy as Buddy thought it deserved. Yet do not chide, gentle reader, for if you had only seen those eyes of woe, you would have wept with Buddy over a loss of even one second in the Disco Tent.

But never think that Buddy is down forever. The caretaker could have sworn she heard him humming “I will survive” a few minutes ago.

Like Buddy’s curiosity, Disco never dies.

 

 

 

The caretaker has discovered many distinct advantages to growing old. No one expects an old lady to wear high heels or uncomfortable clothes. No one expects an old lady to run a marathon or climb Mount Kilimanjaro or help a friend move. In fact, an old lady is considered quite capable if she can keep her cats’ litter boxes clean, their water bowls filled, and their plates covered with gushy food three or four times a day. If she does her own laundry and shopping, dusts occasionally, and mows her lawn once a week, she is the object of amazement. Nobody thinks twice when she sits down to rest more often than she used to do. And if an old lady speaks her mind, even forcefully from time to time, nobody raises an eyebrow, at least not within her failing eyesight. Those who truly know her recognize that she, having passed through fire and death, has earned the right to take no guff and give no quarter.

Thus it is with elderly cats such as our own dear Bear. Her Majesty sleeps when she will, where she will, for as long as she will. She makes no attempt to move any more than is absolutely necessary to take care of business. And since her primary business is to partake of nourishment, food is the subject on which she forcefully speaks her mind at least three or four times a day. The caretaker has little need of an alarm clock in the mornings, for its gentle tones are often drowned out by the high-pitched meow-yelling that continues until the plate touches the floor. The same meow-yell greets the caretaker when she arrives home from work. If by chance she tries to do a pre-emptive strike and serve the bedtime meal early, there is yelling because the food is not the right kind or or the right color or because the air has touched it or because Buddy looked at it first. For the old lady Bear, there is always a reason to yell. Thus she has earned the nickname “Old Yeller.”

But sometimes, sometimes, the caretaker gets it right and the yelling gives way to peace. One such time is pictured below. Bear had strategically stationed herself on the ottoman near the kitchen door and began yelling as soon as the caretaker began cooking her own dinner. But she fell silent when the caretaker plopped a smidgen of salmon in a small bowl and presented it to Her Majesty, the Queen of all Seafood and Sovereign of Barnyard Fowl. Feeling no need to rise from her throne, Bear scarfed down the tasty morsel and then requested removal of the bowl so that she could drift off into sweet slumber on a soft surface. For both Bear and the caretaker, a nap is always in order after a snack. After all, each must keep up her strength if she is to fly with her own wings.

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Years ago when the caretaker’s family gatherings were much larger, a story would often be told about an incident that occurred when she was about four years old and her great-aunt Lela lived with her family. Lela was a kind and gentle soul, about 70 years old, who had lost a son in World War II and her husband only a few months before the incident that we are about to relate. Lela was short and frail, and her one crowning glory was her waist-long steel-gray hair. It was as thin and frail as Lela, but every morning when she twisted it up into a bun at the nape of her neck, she looked ladylike and elegant despite her poverty and grief.

Having no one to take care of at home any longer, she had agreed to come to stay with the caretaker’s family to help take care of the children. Lela had never had a daughter of her own, so she indulged the young caretaker by letting her have her way entirely too often. Had Lela been even the slightest bit stern with the young caretaker, she might have spared herself the trouble that we are about to relate.

One evening after Lela had gone to bed, the caretaker sneaked into her room, woke her up, and told her a whopper of a lie: “Aunt Lela, you have company! Somebody is here to see you.”

Mind you, it took some effort to get this message across because poor Lela was severely deaf, and she wore one of those old-fashioned hearing aids that was constantly whistling. But when she finally understood what the child was saying, she slowly got out of nice warm bed, put on her Sunday best, and did her hair up into a bun again. Since someone had taken the time to come for a visit, the only polite thing she could do was to make herself look presentable.

Thus perfectly clad and coifed, she went to the living room and asked the caretaker’s parents where her company was. They were surprised on many different levels, first to see her dressed so impeccably so late in the day, and then to hear her ask about a visitor, of which there was none. Knowing her to be of sound mind, they asked her why she thought she had company, and she repeated the message that the caretaker had conveyed so convincingly.

At that point, they all began to search for the miscreant. When they found her, she was in Lela’s bed, blanket drawn up to her chin, pretend-snoring like a chainsaw. At the sound of her name (times three), she threw back the covers, sat up straight and exclaimed, “Who was the bum that woke me up?” The adults were torn between wanting to be angry about what amounted to a cruel prank and wanting to laugh at the sheer silliness of it all.

To this day, almost 60 years later, the caretaker has no direct memory of this incident, but at least the story has been told often enough to keep it fresh in her mind. That is why she had to laugh this week when she finally got her comeuppance.

One cold January morning, Buddy rolled into her room yelling so loudly that the caretaker had no choice but to hit the floor. Shoving her feet into her slippers, she headed off to the kitchen to plate up the gushy food. Bear wasted no time lapping up her breakfast, but Buddy was nowhere to be seen. The caretaker thought this quite unusual because he had been so insistent that she get up and start her day. When she found him, he was lounging in the exact spot she had vacated, presumably soaking up the warmth she had left there.

And although he wasn’t asking, “Who was the bum that woke me up?” he might as well have been. One can only hope that Lela was watching from heaven to enjoy the moment.

There are days when life at Stratford Palace flows as smoothly as butter and honey over a warm croissant.

And then there are days like today.

Having arisen at 4:07 to serve gushy food to two ravenous cats, the caretaker shuffled back to the comfort of her bed, thankful for Caturday mornings. When the alarm sounded at 7:00 am, she rolled out of bed, slipped on her sandals, and headed to the kitchen to switch on the shiny new coffeemaker.

But a funny, not-funny, thing happened on the way to the coffee. One minute the caretaker was striding down the hallway and into the dining room, owning life in all its glory, and the next minute her forward motion was cut short as her right foot was accidentally introduced to the left side of a furry beast who was snoozing in the middle of the floor.

As an aside, let us now take an inventory of the designated sleeping surfaces in the palace:

  • a large couch
  • a large chair
  • six smaller chairs
  • two twin beds
  • a cot
  • four cat beds, including Sock Monkey and a covered cave bed
  • four boxes lined with blankets

All of them are clean, soft, and inviting. None of them is in the designated walking spaces. Yet Buddy was sleeping in the middle of the cold, hard floor, directly in the path between the bedroom and the kitchen.

But we digress.

Being a law-abiding citizen, the caretaker was careful to observe Newton’s first law of motion. Her uniform motion in a straight line was compelled to change its state by the presence of the sleeping external force, to wit, 14 pounds of muscle, bones, and fur. She also obeyed the second law of motion; her velocity changed when her foot met the previously mentioned external force. Further, she obeyed the law of gravity. All of that forward motion thwarted in mid-stride had to go somewhere, and that was down. Meanwhile, the cat’s inertia had immediately converted into hysteria, as he scampered off to avoid the falling object, to wit, the caretaker (weight undisclosed).

All the while, the caretaker’s frantic brain was continually reassessing the situation. Should she try to catch herself? No, that could cause even more damage. Should she yell really loudly and hope the force of her voice will buoy her up? No, that’s not even a thing. Should she fall as gracefully as possible and hope for the best? Welp, there’s really no other choice.

So she did a Humpty-Dumpty right there in the middle of the dining room.

For a few awkward minutes, she lay stretched out upon the floor, moaning through a wellness check on her limbs. Then she sat up, wincing, and Buddy slowly approached. He stared solemnly into her face as if to say, “Are you going to going to be okay? Because if you’re not, you need to call someone to come over here and feed us. Now.”

Overcome by his concern, the caretaker slowly stood up and began learning to walk again, with almost as much grace as Frankenstein’s monster. Almost.

A quick internet search indicates that there are anywhere from 650 to 840 muscles in the human body. If the caretaker’s level of pain is a good indicator, there are exactly 841, and they have banded together to challenge the constitutionality of the laws of physics.

Despite the caretaker’s agony, her love for Buddy has not waned. After all, who could resist this face?

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Spring is a très intéressant time of the year. The world begins to thaw as it awakens from its wintry sleep, and the air is filled with the delicate scent of lilac and hyacinth. Trees stir and yawn, and as they extend their stark brown limbs, tiny green badges of life appear. This particular spring, the famous (and brilliant) detective Furcule Purrot was continually drawn to a warm sunny spot on the back of the sofa near the picture window in his purrfectly furnished flat at Cathaven Mansions. Although he enjoys overseeing the Mansion grounds at any time of day, dusk is his favorite time because that is when the criminal element begins to emerge. As the sun begins to fade, Furcule can often be found peering out across the mansion’s grounds observing every whisker that either twitches or stays still for too long. The eccentric Belgian has an active imagination, and he thrives on any form of study that will keep his little grey cells exercised.

On the evening in question, he was intrigued by the antics of a tiny grey mouse that flitted anxiously from the sidewalk to the flowerbed to the driveway, never completely coming to rest. Purrot, having a particular interest in the order Rodentia, leaned forward to study the specimen further and to formulate questions that might result in an interesting hypothesis. Was this wanderer lost? Was its errand as dodgy as its movements? What were its hopes and dreams, its wants and worries, its political affiliations? Why was Monsieur le Souris  not sur la table? But most important, would this particular souris be a suitable déjeuner for a bachelor detective if it were properly cooked and served with a savory sauce? If so, should it be followed by a cup of tisane?

Just as his mind had begun to slip further into gastronomical musings, his attention was drawn to the sight of a predator stalking the preoccupied mouse. Purrot moved so close to the window that the ends of his impressive mustache tickled the glass. At that very moment, the predator pounced and with one deft stroke severed the mouse’s body from its head. The stunned detective recoiled in horror. As many times as he had been called to examine a murder scene, he had never been witness to a victim’s demise, and the sheer gruesomeness of it all proved entirely too much for his little grey cells to process. He bounded off the couch, scampered through the living room, lurched through the door to the hallway, and then bowled his entire body weight against the door, closing it to put another layer betwixt himself and chaos. As much as he hated closed doors, he hated danger even more.

Upon hearing this disturbance, Miss Lemon (who looks suspiciously like the caretaker) rushed into the hallway. The level of noise led her to expect a gang of roving thieves to mow her down. Instead, she found a wide-eyed Purrot, panting and pacing. Speaking in her best matter-of-fact voice, she attempted to calm him down as she opened the hallway door and moved slowly into the living room. Seeing no danger, she called the trembling detective back into the room, and he followed her cautiously.

But just as he crossed the threshold, he spied a grey felt mouse that he had used for previous experiments, and he returned to high alert. The resemblance of this creature to the one he had so recently seen murdered unhinged the poor Belgian a second time. He began poking and batting the felt mouse as though assuring himself that it would not be able to add to the evening’s contretemps.

Miss Lemon allowed him to conclude his experiment with the felt mouse while she repaired to the kitchen to assemble a light meal. Having convinced himself that his home was safe again, he heartily consumed his repas and settled down to rest. His only regret was that he would never know whether the mouse was tasty or not. As an honorable detective, he could not disturb the scene of a crime, nor could he allow Miss Lemon to do so. Quel dommage!

Furcule Purrot

Furcule Purrot au repos

Though Stratford Palace is a mostly serene dwelling (save for vet visits or those hollerdays involving fireworks), it has its own peculiar struggles from time to time. One dare not label them as “life-or-death” because no cats or caretakers are ever harmed in such contretemps. Rather, these struggles are more along the lines of “comfort-or-serious-lack-thereof.” Last night one of those struggles played out between two unlikely combatants: Bear and the caretaker.

Almost every evening, the caretaker stays up long past the hour that Bear would consider a proper bedtime. Truth be told, Bear is amenable to falling asleep at virtually any hour, but there comes a time shortly after dark has fallen that she leaves the caretaker and Buddy to watch the big light-box, and pads down the hallway to the caretaker’s bedroom. Someone, after all, has to be sensible in this household, and that lot falls to Bear more often than the caretaker would like to admit.

Bear in Bed

Bear in Bed

At this point, it is important for our gentle readers to know that Stratford Palace has three bedrooms, as well as multiple cat beds in the living room and dining room, not to mention a blanket-filled box in the hallway. But when darkness falls, Bear deliberately passes up these congenial spots in order to make a cozy nest in the exact center of the caretaker’s bed. Normally, when the caretaker is ready to retire for the evening, she goes to the kitchen and opens a can of gushy fish or fowl, and before the food hits the plate, Bear is underfoot, meowing impatiently. The caretaker then completes her evening ablutions and goes to bed, while Bear assumes her post in the hallway box and waits for the caretaker to fall asleep before sneaking back up onto the bed for the rest of the night.

But last night, there was no waiting. There was no sneaking. There were only the wily machinations of a gifted strategist: Bear. Last night, Bear wolfed down her food and practically ran all the way back to the bed, plopping down smack-dab in the middle of it. Thinking that this was any normal evening, the caretaker completed her ablutions and headed to her room.  But when she arrived, she found an unwelcome surprise. There lay Bear, leaving no room for the caretaker either to the left or the right. To add to the misery, Buddy took that moment to claim a spot at the foot of the bed.

At this point, it is important for our gentle readers to know that all of the beds in Stratford Palace are twin beds or smaller. Despite the presence of royalty in the palace, there is neither queen bed nor king bed. So when a twin bed is already populated by one 12-pound cat and one 14-pound cat, both lying parallel to the sides of the bed, there is not enough square footage left for a small child, much less a large caretaker. Attempts to relocate Bear slightly to the west were met with stubborn resistance. Subsequent attempts to settle down on the east side of Bear without hanging precariously off the side of the bed were also met with failure. With a sigh, the caretaker realized that she had been outfoxed.

If there is, indeed, no rest for the wicked, the only logical conclusion is that Bear is a veritable saint. The caretaker, on the other hand, should probably seek out a confessor as soon as possible.